By Misti Crane | The Columbus Dispatch
If you enjoy wrapping up your day with a cocktail, your heart might be better off for it, according to the most comprehensive review to date of research into alcohol consumption and cardiovascular disease.
Moderate drinking–no more than one drink a day for women, two for men–is associated with repeatedly proven cardiovascular benefits, according to an analysis of 84 studies over the past 60 years.
The University of Calgary analysis, which appeared this week in the British Medical Journal, doesn’t surprise cardiologists, but its size and scope add weight to the advice they give patients when it comes to booze.
First off–and they couldn’t be any clearer on the matter–this isn’t a free pass to down a bottle of wine every night. Nor is it reason to start drinking if you don’t.
Alcohol’s potential ills are well-documented; they include addiction, liver disease and a slightly elevated risk of breast cancer.
“What I always say is, ‘If you don’t drink, don’t start. But if you do, there are dramatic benefits,’” said Dr. David Sabgir, medical director of cardiac rehab for the Mount Carmel Health System.
Researchers involved in the landmark Framingham Heart Study recognized the apparent benefit of alcohol more than 50 years ago, but they didn’t share the news at the time because of a reluctance to encourage drinking, Sabgir said.
He still gets referrals from some doctors who tell their heart patients not to imbibe at all.
“If the patient has a risk of cardiovascular disease and they enjoy (drinking), that’s a shame,” Sabgir said of the advice.
But excessive alcohol can lead to high blood pressure, weakened heart muscle and an increased risk of stroke, said Dr. Vincent Pompili, director of interventional cardiology at Ohio State University Medical Center.
Dr. Barry George, who specializes in interventional and endovascular cardiology at Riverside Methodist Hospital, said he routinely asks about alcohol consumption when he’s getting to know a patient.
Some drink far too much, and in those cases he never recommends drinking for its heart benefits.
“If I feel that they don’t have a problem with excessive consumption, then I basically go over the whole litany of risk factors (for heart disease) and then say, ‘ It’s not going to hurt you if you have a drink now or then in the evening,’” George said.
“They always say, ‘Red wine?’ and I tell them, ‘If you’re not a wine drinker, a highball a night certainly doesn’t do harm and it probably does you some good.’”
Same goes for beer.
The precise way that alcohol helps on a cellular level isn’t well understood, but it boosts good cholesterol, thins the blood and prevents clotting, Pompili said.